Nick Cave contemplates catastrophe from the ‘Skeleton Tree’
Kelly McGarry | Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Over a blaring violin, Nick Cave confesses, “Most of us don’t really want to change, really … but what happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic, that you just change. You change from a known person to an unknown person.” The catastrophic event to which he alludes to can only be the unexpected death of his teenage son, a tragedy most of us hope to never comprehend. Cave’s confession is part of the documentary “One More Time With Feeling,” created in conjunction with his recently released album, “Skeleton Tree.”
Of the albums that Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds have released consistently for over 30 years, this is not the first to contemplate death — but it is the bleakest. Though the playfulness of previous works was left out on this album, it does not lack for creativity
An eerie din introduces the opening track, “Jesus Alone,” and sets a disturbing tone for the album. The track eventually comes to a repeated painful wail subtly reminiscent of Clare Torry’s wordless vocals on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky.” From here, the album progresses through various manifestations of grief.
A twinkling instrumental in “Rings of Saturn” incorporates a dream-pop style rather than the nightmare feeling the rest of the album evokes. The airy instrumental is grounded by Cave’s deeply, darkly spoken lyrics that also convey a sense of rightness as the notes fall into place, “And in this moment, this is exactly what she is born to be.”
The sense of uncertainty throughout the album is defied only by the most straightforward track, “I Need You.” A steady snare drum accompanies some of the album’s only clear lines, “Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone,” and the repeated confession, “I need you.” Straightforwardness may be a reason Cave chose to release this song with a video, a simple but heartfelt performance of the song in a dingy room, recorded in black and white.
Proximity to death is at its most tangible in “Distant Sky,” introduced by organs that call to mind a funeral march. You can almost smell the incense as the female vocalist sings in the style of a church cantor. Cave solidifies the religious imagery when he croons, “They told us our gods would outlive us/but they lied.”
The closing track from which the album gets its name has a cathartic effect, ending with the line “It’s alright now.” Perhaps people are changed by catastrophic events because the person they once were could not have dealt with the experience, but transformation into an unknown person makes acceptance possible.
If you like: The National, The Smiths
Tracks: “Girl in Amber,” “Rings of Saturn”
Label: Bad Seed Ltd.